Representation and Book Selection: How Children’s Librarians Can Impact Diversity

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Children experience the diversity of their communities in every interaction with others at home, at school, and in the neighborhood. And as communities continue to diversify, it’s becoming increasingly important that children learn about and understand the role of their culture, and the cultures of those around them, in creating safe, inclusive, and supportive neighborhoods that are respectful of differences.

One of the ways that children learn about the world around them is through the stories that are shared with them, both oral and written. The messages that they contain can help children understand how society perceives their culture, as well as the cultures of those around them, and can influence their experience and how they relate with others. This social and identity development is integral to their development as global citizens, and helps prepare children to positively influence those whose developments they will affect as they grow.

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Sourcing and including diverse children’s literature in school curriculums should therefore be a priority for educators, and librarians are particularly positioned to influence this. Here are some of the ways that librarians can help impact diversity through representation and book selection.

  • Seek out and read diverse literature. The more diverse the literature you read in your own life, the better able you are to suggest diverse titles to others. Participate in reading challenges, stay informed of award lists, and read blogs and reviews to stay informed.
  • Share widely. Discuss the books you’re reading with your students and peers and display them prominently in your libraries. And don’t be restricted to particular heritage months, either (though certainly don’t ignore them). Any genre, theme, or other display can include a diverse array of authors and titles.
  • Seek out professional development. Take advantage of opportunities to teach elsewhere within your district, or participate in local, national, or international conferences when possible.
  • Encourage critical thinking. Everyone benefits from being able to critically evaluate the literature they encounter and detecting bias, absent voices or perspectives, and stereotypes in writing is a valuable life skill that will help students in future research efforts.
  • Buy diverse books. Your purchases will speak the loudest to publishers, so vote with your dollar. Seek out diversity when you buy books, and dedicate some of your spending to smaller publishers who focus on niche subjects or authors who may not otherwise receive mainstream attention.

The diversity of a library’s collection reflects the shared characteristics that define how its community lives, thinks, and creates meaning. They can include customs, traditions, rituals, food, dress, and language and the daily experiences influenced by varied social factors from the immediate community as well as broader influences. And children experience culture through their families’ customs, practices, and values, in their daily interactions at school and in the neighborhood, and through the stories and information they share in books and media. It is therefore incumbent on those who distribute this information – in this case, children’s librarians – to reflect the diversity of the characteristics of their community in their library.